Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Backcountry Skiing A Pair Of Adirondack Passes

Tim-in-Whales-Tail-Pass1We just finished our March/April issue of the Adirondack Explorer, so I took Tuesday off to go backcountry skiing and take advantage of the recent snowfalls (before a looming thaw sets in).

My neighbor Tim Peartree and I skied through two mountain passes. The first, Avalanche Pass, is one of the most popular ski trips in the Adirondacks. From Heart Lake, it’s about four miles to the top of the pass and an additional 0.6 miles to Avalanche Lake.

If you do the trip, I highly recommend you visit the lake. It’s one of the scenic wonders of the High Peaks, with the sheer rock walls of Mount Colden rising straight out of the water (or ice). I’d suggest you ski at least as far as the Trap Dike, a large gash in the side of Colden that ice climbers often use to reach the summit. For a longer trip, and more spectacular vistas, you can continue to Lake Colden.

Tim-in-Avy-Pass-225x300When Tim and I reached Avalanche Lake we encountered fierce winds, the strongest I have experienced there. (The National Weather Service predicted 60-mph gusts on Mount Marcy.) The snow was blowing horizontally, and the wind chill was downright dangerous. We turned around almost immediately.

The highlight on the return trip is the 430-foot descent from the top of Avalanche Pass to Avalanche Camps near Marcy Brook. You descend via a ski trail that winds down the slope, crossing the hiking trail twice. Conditions on the ski trail (as well as the other trails we used) were excellent: packed powder, but not slick.

Upon returning to Marcy Dam, we climbed to the pass between Wright Peak and Whales Tail Mountain. Again, we were on a ski trail that entailed about four hundred feet of ascent. Whales Tail Pass is not skied as often as Avy Pass, but it has been getting use. Previous skiers had created a trough with their tracks, but on the descent we were able to make fresh tracks in the deep powder on the sides.

The Whales Tail Ski Trail ends at the Algonquin Peak hiking trail. From there, we returned to the Loj via the Old Marcy Dam Trail.

The tour took about five hours. All in all, a great day of skiing in the woods. We wanted to get out while we could, because the Weather Service is predicting rain and freezing rain on Friday (with a high near 43).

Incidentally, both ski trails require at least intermediate skills. For those curious about the Avalanche Pass Ski Trail, I made a video of our descent, following Tim the whole time. The descent took about five minutes.

Photos: Above, Tim Peartree in Whales Tail Pass; below, Tim in Avalanche Pass. Photos by Phil Brown.

YouTube video

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Phil Brown is the former Editor of Adirondack Explorer, the regional bimonthly with a focus on outdoor recreation and environmental issues, the same topics he writes about here at Adirondack Almanack. Phil is also an energetic outdoorsman whose job and personal interests often find him hiking, canoeing, rock climbing, trail running, and backcountry skiing. He is the author of Adirondack Paddling: 60 Great Flatwater Adventures, which he co-published with the Adirondack Mountain Club, and the editor of Bob Marshall in the Adirondacks, an anthology of Marshall’s writings.Visit Lost Pond Press for more information.

7 Responses

  1. Terry says:

    Nice job with that video, gentlemen! That was excellent – and excellent skiing too!!

  2. Paul K says:

    nice job, i almost fell off my chair when you squeezed between those 2 trees, it was like being there

  3. Dan Crane says:


    What video camera did you use to film the descent?

  4. Phil Brown says:

    Glad you all liked the video. It was made with a GoPro Hero strapped to my helmet.

  5. Dan Crane says:

    That is an amazing picture and sound for such a small camera. I might have to get one to record my bushwhacking adventures this year.

    By the way, you have some serious cross-country skiing skills. I would have been on my butt more than a few times on that run, and that is something I definitely don’t want anyone recording.

  6. Phil Brown says:

    Well, I’m really not an expert skier. Just an intermediate who likes the backcountry. The skier in the video is Tim Peartree.

    ps: if you want your video to go viral, falling on your butt will help

  7. Harold says:

    Phil, Following your advice in the most recent ADK Explorer we skied up to Hi Notch and cruised back down to the Loj on Tuesday. On Wednesday we did the trip to Avalanche Lake. Both of the downhills on these trails were a blast and the conditions were perfect.

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